August 30, 2011

Playing With Fire: How Mindfulness & Addiction go Hand in Hand.

Photo: Charles Chan

This is the fourth in a series of posts titled “Everyday Mindfulness.” You can find the previous posts here, here and here.

“Do you ever feel tempted to drink again?”

my friend asks. I have just poured two fat shots of Jack Daniels for a couple of guys at the bar. I wrinkle my nose as I watch them gulp the booze down. It covers my fingers like some kind of burning jelly and it seeps into the cuts on my skin. I rush to the sink to wash it off like I’ve got blood on my hands.

Photo: Scott Robinson

“No,” I say. “I don’t worry about drinking too much. It’s the drugs I have to be careful of.”

He nods his head, and I get angry for a second. He doesn’t really know what I’m talking about. He doesn’t wake up sweating after fitful cocaine dreams so real that he worries he might have relapsed in his sleep. He doesn’t load up dream pipes with big, jagged pieces of crack rock, smoking them one after another.

I look up. He’s smiling at me, and my anger fades away. I realize he doesn’t have to know to understand or to care.

“No,” I go on. “I just have to be really careful about the kinds of situations I put myself in.”

In other words, I have to be really, really mindful.

I’m thinking about the gay bars and the night clubs and the all-night dance parties now. As much as I may think I could just sip on a club soda while chatting it up with some cute guy who’s drinking a beer, I know in my heart that I’d just be playing with fire.

Photo: Scott Paterson

But that’s only the surface of it—the result of a deep and fundamental shift in my old way of thinking about who I am and what my life means to me. Before, it didn’t mean anything all. But now it’s like there’s a resonant feedback loop running through my head all the time telling me that life is important. It’s like one of those subliminal positive affirmation tapes, except that this one comes from my own heart. Here’s what it says:

You are worthy of happiness. You are worthy of respect. You are worthy of love. I believe in you.

These have become the deep mantras that ground me in my life. They inform my decisions and, like fearless guardians and dakinis, surround me and keep me safe.

The two men are walking away now. I’m feeling strong, but not cocky. I know I could fall at any moment. So I hold the bottle of Jack like a loaded gun as I wipe it down and put it carefully back on its shelf.

Addiction is serious and there is no one method that is guaranteed to ensure one’s continued sobriety. Mindfulness, cultivated through meditation practice, has been very helpful for me. However, it is not the only thing I rely on to stay clean and sober. What strategies have worked for you in keeping you, or someone you know, on the path of recovery?


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